REVIEW: Captain America #698

CAPTAIN AMERICA #698 / Writers: Mark Waid & Chris Samnee / Color Artist: Matthew Wilson / Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna / Cover Art: Chris Samnee & Matthew Wilson / Publisher: Marvel / Feb 14, 2018

In the Home of the Brave arc, precursor to the Out of Time arc starting this week, we follow Captain America as he takes to the open road along America’s heartland, over byway and highway, helping people where he can. His wandering takes him to community picnics, diners, and coffee shops, mingling with good people living simple lives. Cap, alone on his motorcycle, seems content to see the country he loves through fresh post–Secret Empire eyes. Captain America #697 finds Steve relaxing at a pool hall one night somewhere in small town America. Across the billiard table, Steve meets a charming woman. They play a game or two. She flirts. He smiles in his “aw shucks” way. She scratches him with her poisoned fingernails and he wakes, a prisoner of Kraven. You know, regular Friday night in America’s heartland. When Steve wakes, he finds he’s in the middle of a rather elaborate, Kraven-designed hunt. It takes all of Steve’s skill to evade capture and keep the hapless man caught up with him safe. Just when we all thought Cap would evade Kraven’s traps, he’s thrown into the ocean and hit with a freeze ray. Again, Captain America is frozen in time.

Where the America in the Home of the Brave arc was filled with decent people—working hard and living like Hobbits tucked away in the Shire—the America in the Out of Time arc is a dystopian landscape worthy of Mordor’s borderlands. Waid and Samnee cleverly lulled the reader with an idyllic version of American life early on so when the reader opens #698, they are just as shocked as Cap at the state of affairs in America.

What does America look like when it honors its founding ideas, the Constitution, in name only? What does America look like when it willingly gives up its freedom for security? Captain America: The Winter Soldier asked that question. Captain America #698 shows us what happens when freedom falls to the power of fear.

Our introduction to this world, through Cap’s eyes, is at the hands of resistance fighter, Liang and her small band of allies. She reveals to Cap (and us), almost dispassionately, the realities of her world. Drones. Militarized police. Tanks in the streets. Radiation. Mutation. “Due process? Nostalgia.”

The art in this issue left a sharp, bitter taste in my mouth. Idyllic? Try bitter and toxic. Clean and tidy storefronts? Try smoking rubble. Open highways and fresh air? Try tanks and state run propaganda. I’d have to go back and flip through the issues from Home of the Brave just to remember what a happy, healthier America looked like.

The dramatic shift in tone is due heavily to Matt Wilson’s bold use of color. Earlier issues favored cheerful greens and sunny yellows. Captain America #698 is a world dominated by Soviet-esque reds and blacks. A particularly strong page introduces the villain, Maximillian Babbington, a cravat-wearing fascist. His entire visage, handsome as it is, is bathed in red. Handsome devil, indeed. All his scenes are dominated by red, black, and gray. Sharp angles and deep shadows create a real sense of trepidation, of the fear that rises in your throat like bile.

Gone is the sunshine. Gone are the green rolling hills. In fact, blue is only used twice in the entire issue. The first occurrence is on a propaganda poster where soldiers (painted in red) point guns at protesters (painted in blue). The only other time we get a glimpse of blue is on Cap himself, his uniform like a beacon in a smoky, dark night. Visually, everything in this issue—save Cap’s unwaveringly clean uniform—is a direct contrast to the world before Cap went back into the ice. It’s visceral and vindictive.

I found myself coming back to this issue multiple times, more than any recent book I’ve read. I know it is fiction. That said, the parallels between Cap’s dystopian world and the zeitgeist of our modern world scream at me from the page. A slimy fascist sits on a throne of power. The gluttonous 1% live in the lap of luxury, happily turning a blind eye to the atrocities outside every window. Really, what do human rights matter if you can live a plush, pampered life? In Cap’s new world, the divide between the haves and have nots is as wide as the distance from A to Z. Democracy! Freedom! America! Hollow words in Cap’s world.

Are those same words hollow in the here and now? For GenXers like me, we’ve been around long enough to know that what’s going on in America today is not normal. It’s not beyond the realm of my imagination to see police drones in our streets. It’s not beyond the realm of my imagination to see protesters rounded up and swiftly dealt with. Waid and Samnee, along with Wilson’s colors, struck a chord hard for me to hear. This issue reminded me why I love Cap: not because he provides easy answers or fixes things for everyone, but because he leads the way back to the light. Captain America symbolizes the best of what it means to be an American and in today’s world. It’s refreshing to have as a touchstone.

Captain America #698 continues Cap’s long history of taking a political stand in the face of fascism, nativism, and manufactured fear. In a country fallen victim to its own apathy and fears, Cap shows up to lead his new band of commandos in a fight to save the country again.

Also, there’s a talking dog.

Verdict: 5 out of 5

I'm a curious, creative, comic(al) woman. I am unapologetically Team Cap, but not HydraCap because there is a line in the moral sands of the universe and that whole thing is on the other side of it. I teach high school students all about the joys of mythology through comic books, graphic novels, and films. I wandered into the comic book world in 2015 and is a proud member of the #DoYouEvenComicBook gang.

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